E-Dawah: Fundamentals and Methods
By Juan Galvan
The Internet is revolutionizing the everyday life of ordinary people. Many Muslims do not recognize the unique opportunity the Internet offers for conveying Islam. Many non-Muslims searching for truth also benefit from the Internet. The Internet will never replace face-to-face dawah and direct mailing of Islamic literature, but the Internet will continue to broaden dawah opportunities in new ways that benefit both Muslims and non-Muslims. With the growth of the Internet, we have seen an amazing growth of business conducted over the Internet, or E-Commerce. I want to encourage using the Internet to convey the guidance of Islam, or E-Dawah. Electronic Dawah (E-Dawah) is using the Internet for dawah purposes. There are many benefits of E-Dawah. E-Dawah can make dawah more efficient, effective, and less expensive.
The Internet allows information to be easily and inexpensively distributed to anywhere and accessed from anywhere. Traditional dawah methods have included the distribution of Islamic knowledge through printed and audiovisual literature, usually in the form of brochures, books, audiocassettes, CDs, VCR tapes, and DVDs. Much time and money can be spent to purchase, produce, print, and mail literature. The Web offers worldwide resources as text, images, audio, and video. Consequently, the Web makes learning more accessible. Muslims are no longer totally dependent upon a teacher, classroom, or library. Using the Internet to perform research can help cut research costs and is often quicker. The Internet offers year around, up-to-the-minute information.
The Internet allows you to easily and inexpensively communicate with people from around the world. Traditional networking among Muslims for dawah purposes has occurred in mosques and other Islamic institutions. The Web enables Muslims to network with Muslims and non-Muslims from any where at any time who share similar interests and concerns. Much time and money can be spent regularly calling people and keeping a staff available at a physical location to answer questions. Oftentimes, the Islamic institutions that are much needed for dawah simply do not exist. Using the Internet, traditional means of communication are transformed into electronic messages, such as e-mail and chat, and physical locations are transformed into online locations, such as websites for chat rooms and discussion forums.
The Internet is the largest communication network ever produced. Before accessing the Internet, your computer must be connected to the Internet. Connections to the Internet include dial-up, cable modem, and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). A dial-up Internet connection is less expensive but much slower than a cable modem or DSL connection. A DSL connection is generally recommended over a cable modem connection. With DSL or cable modem, you do not have to reestablish a connection each time you want to access the Internet. An Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a company that provides a connection to the Internet. For a monthly fee, an ISP gives you a username and password along with a software package and customer support. For an ISP near you, search the Yellow Pages for Internet Service Providers or Internet Access Providers. ISPs are often called Internet Access Providers (IAPs). Many free online services, such as American Online (AOL) and Microsoft Network (MSN), also offer a paid subscription to access the Internet.
Once you have access to the Internet, you can use websites, e-mail, search engines, chatting, discussion forums, Usenet newsgroups, and newslists. Therefore, E-Dawah includes creating websites, writing e-mail, online research and education, chatting, and joining online communities to promote Islam. Methods for online communication are helping to break down barriers that have traditionally separated many communities from Islam. Perhaps, the biggest challenge for the Internet is getting rid of computer phobia. Nevertheless, Muslims should be conscious about the many dangers that exist on the Internet. We should keep in mind that dawah means “to call or invite people to Islam.” Dawah is essentially about conveying the knowledge of Islam. E-Dawah is one of the most important aspects of CyberIslam. CyberIslam is the presence of Islam and Muslims on the Internet. Regardless of the methods, Muslims must continue to adhere to proper Islamic principles when calling people to Islam. For example, Muslims must maintain the best character, such as by being patient and truthful. This paper is only meant to be a starting point.
A website is a location on the World Wide Web (WWW). The World Wide Web, or the Web, is the best-known feature of the Internet. A website consists of web pages that can contain text, graphics, sounds, and videos. Web pages can also contain links to web pages and e-mail addresses within and outside the current website. Web pages are created using HTML. A web page is often divided into sections, such as a header, body, footer, and navigation menu. A website may serve various purposes, depending on the individual or organization that manages the website.
You use software called a web browser to access websites. Internet Explorer, Mozilla FireFox, and Opera Browser are among the most popular web browsers. Each of these browsers can be downloaded for free. Web browsers make the Web full of colors, filled with graphics, sound, and video. Other main features of web browsers include a bookmarks list, a history list, and options for changing various browser and privacy settings. The bookmarks list is the list of your selected website addresses that is used for quickly revisiting your favorite websites. The bookmarks list is also known as the favorites list. The history list consists of your recently visited websites. Today, it is difficult to believe that web browsers did not begin to be widely used until 1994 with the release of NCSA Mosaic and Netscape Navigator. Since the late 1990s, Internet Explorer has been the most popular web browser. Mozilla FireFox and Opera Browser are popular for their usability and flexibility.
When you are viewing web pages, you are browsing, or surfing, the Web. The Web can also be used for e-mail, discussion forums, and file transfer. Each web page has an address called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). For example, the URL for the website of the Latino American Dawah Organization (LADO) is http://www.latinodawah.org. HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) is the most common means of file transfer on the Web. HTTPS, often used with financial transactions, is the secure-encrypted version of HTTP. File transfer is simply the moving of files between two computers over a network, such as the Internet. To download means to transfer a copy of a file from another computer ‘down’ to your own computer over the Internet. The opposite of download is upload.
Creating your own website offers many benefits. Websites are an important form of communication, because people from across the globe can access your website. Web pages on your website can be printed from any computer connected to the Internet. People can also download information found on your website. Links to your website can also be e-mailed. Updating anything that you publish on the Web is simple and inexpensive. For Muslims, websites are an inexpensive way to distribute Islamic information. For example, anyone with access to the Internet can listen to Islamic lectures, print out Islamic articles, and download Islamic software, such as how to perform Salat. For Muslim organizations, websites are an important tool for common activities, such as marketing, fundraising, and distributing literature. Among the most popular Islamic websites are WhyIslam.org, IslamicFinder.com, TheTrueReligion.org, IslamiCity.com, IslamOnline.net, IslamForToday.com, and RadioIslam.com.
You can build and maintain a free website at geocities.yahoo.com, angelfire.lycos.com, tripod.lycos.com, or fortunecity.com. These are examples of free website hosting companies. The downside to free websites are annoying banner or popup ads. These ads can be removed by upgrading to a payment plan. After purchasing a domain name such as name.com, www.name.org, or www.name.edu, you can find services that will host your domain name inexpensively if not for free. Many website hosting companies make developing a website easy by offering users a selection of website templates. A website template is a ready-made web design template, which are used to control the standard items for each page, such as the color scheme, the fonts, and the layout of the website.
Although most website hosting companies provide a way to transfer files over a website, many website developers prefer to use FTP clients, such as WS FTP, to update their websites. FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a way of transferring files between computers, which requires login as either anonymous or with a username and password. SSH (Secure Shell) is similar to FTP except that SSH offers a secure connection. FTP should not to be confused with Telnet and Kermit, which are better known for terminal emulation. Until 1994, Telnet was used more often than the Web. HTTP, FTP, and e-mail are the most common means of file transfer on the Web.
A weblog is a type of website that contains periodic postings. Basically, a weblog is an online journal. A weblog is commonly referred to as a blog. Blog can also be used as a verb, such as in “I blog,” “I blogged,” and “I am blogging.” Many terms relating to blogs have been developed. For example, the entire network of blogs and bloggers is referred to as the blogosphere. People who blog are known as bloggers. A blogger creates and maintains a blog. That is, a blogger selects the blog’s content and look.
The most common features of a blog are the blog posts, reader comments, blog archive, and blogroll. The blog posts are the blog entries, which can be short or long postings about anything. The most recent blog posts are on the front page toward the top. Readers may also add their own comments to each blog post. The blog archive categorizes all the blog posts by month and year. The blog archive may be searched. All posts have a permanent link known as a permalink. The blogroll is a list of website links to other blogs. The blog archive and blogroll are found on the front page of the blog.
You can develop a blog in the same way you would build any website. In 1999, the founding of free blog services, such as Blogger.com and Pitas.com, would later encourage millions of people to begin their own blogs. You may also create a free weblog at Bloglines.com, Xanga.com, Modblog.com, and Blogsome.com. Many websites you may use regularly offer free blogging services. Yahoo offers Yahoo! 360Â° at 360.yahoo.com, AOL offers AOL Journals at journals.aol.com, MSN offers Windows Live Spaces at spaces.live.com, and Google offers Orkut at orkut.com. All of these free services allow users to select a website template for their blog.
The benefits of maintaining a blog are similar to those for maintaining a website. However, blogs are becoming the most popular form of website for people. Group blogs are also becoming more popular. Group blogs are blogs maintained by more than one person, such as by family members, friends, and coworkers. For a Muslim, a blog is a good way to share your personal stories about life as a Muslim as well as your thoughts on current events. A Muslim group blog generally focuses on the stories and thoughts of the group and its members.
A blog should not be confused with a wiki. A wiki is a type of a website that allows others to edit the content and presentation of any page found on the website, including adding and removing pages. For example, Wikipedia at Wikipedia.org is an encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone. You can create your own wiki at Wikia.com, PBwiki.com, WikiSpaces.com, etc. The main benefit of a wiki is for collaboration with others on writing projects.
Electronic mail (e-mail) is used to send and receive messages over the Internet. The e-mail messages are usually notes typed using a keyboard. E-mail systems offer various services such an address book for e-mail addresses, folders for saving messages, and the ability to send the same message to many people at once. You can also e-mail attachments such as documents, pictures, and sounds. After reading your e-mail, you can reply to it, forward it, store it, or delete it. E-mail can also be printed out on a printer.
All Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and online services such as AOL offer e-mail. An e-mail client is used to read and send e-mail. An e-mail client may be a web-based e-mail service, a stand-alone program such as MS Outlook, or built into other programs such as web browsers. Many people and organizations offer free e-mail accounts as a way to promote their websites. You can sign up for free web-based e-mail at mail.yahoo.com, hotmail.com, mail.google.com, and mail.aol.com. I prefer the Yahoo e-mail service. Due to greater competition, the free e-mail services are adding additional or enhanced services to attract new users. For example, free e-mail services now offer a greater amount of storage space. They may also include online scanning for computer viruses. They also include advanced email filters that work toward limiting unwanted and unsolicited messages, also known as spam.
Unfortunately, e-mail is vulnerable to problems common with regular mail, such as unsolicited mail and mail fraud. E-mail spam, or junk e-mail, is typically advertising sent out simultaneously by e-mail to numerous people. Phishing scams are an example of spam. Phishing is a type of Internet fraud that involves tricking people into disclosing private information, such as credit card, bank account, and social security numbers as well as usernames and passwords. Typically, the phishers will pretend to be a representative, such as for a banking institution, requesting verification of personal information, and any obtained information is used for identity theft.
E-mail is also susceptible to malicious software (malware). Malware is used to display ads, break into, monitor, or possibly damage a computer. Malware is installed and executed without permission, but is not always circulated through e-mail. Computer viruses, such as trojan horses and worms, are one type of malware; other types of malware include spyware and adware. Computer viruses are potentially harmful programs that spread, commonly by self-replication, throughout the Internet. In addition to online tools, free and commercial stand-alone products, such as McAfee VirusScan, Norton AntiVirus, and AVG Anti-Virus Free, are available that identify and eliminate computer viruses. Anti-Virus programs do not necessarily focus on fighting spyware and adware. Popular software that identify and eliminate spyware and adware include Windows Defender, Lavasoft Ad-Aware, and Spybot Search & Destroy.
Regardless of potential issues, e-mail continues to be the most commonly used means of communication over the Internet. E-mail users can send and receive e-mail any time of the day from anywhere in the world. E-mail is also highly reliable. The recipient generally receives your e-mail within a few seconds or minutes. Consequently, e-mail is a valuable tool for networking. You can e-mail Islam-related information to Muslims and non-Muslim friends. You can use e-mail to contact and to be contacted. You can e-mail a letter to newspaper editors, television producers, and leaders of Muslim organizations. You can visit the websites of organizations to find the e-mail addresses you need. Many organizations actively seek suggestions, comments, and questions. For example, the media is always seeking interesting, news worthy topics to report as well as contact information for people who can contribute to the story.
A search engine is an online tool used for searching the Web. After entering keywords in a search engine, a search engine returns a list of the web pages where the keywords were found. You can visit the web pages that contain the information you are seeking. For a more refined search, enter more detailed keywords. For example, rather than entering ‘Muslim’ in a search engine, you may want to enter ‘Latino Muslims.’ Keywords can be anything you want to research.
Google.com, Yahoo.com, MSN.com, AltaVista.com, Ask.com, Excite.com, and Lycos.com are popular search engines. Search.com and DogPile.com bring together search results from multiple search engines. Most popular search engines allow you to search for images, audio, and video files. I use Google.com on a regular basis. Most popular search engines also allow you to search for news topics of interest from anywhere in the world. You may find driving directions using maps.google.com, earth.google.com (satellite views), maps.yahoo.com, and mapquest.com.
Part of CNET Central (Cnet.com), Download.com is perhaps the best source to find a variety of software. Blogdigger.com, Daypop.com, Blogsearch.google.com, and Ysearchblog.com are popular search engines for blogs. I recommend using FindArticles.com to search over 300 magazines for articles covering various subjects. FindArticles.com also contains a comprehensive list of websites for various magazines and journals categorized by subject. If you need to search an online dictionary, thesaurus, or encyclopedia, check out Reference.com and Bartleby.com.
Almost all search engines are now also portals. The most popular search engines including Yahoo, Google, and MSN are horizontal portals. These websites serve as a starting point for anything anyone wants to do on the Web. For example, Yahoo attempts to provide for your entire Internet needs through its website. In addition to a free e-mail account, Yahoo allows you to search the yellow pages at yp.yahoo.com and to shop online at shopping.yahoo.com. You can also search for phone numbers at people.yahoo.com, television listings at tv.yahoo.com, play online games at games.yahoo.com, plan vacations at travel.yahoo.com, and check the weather at weather.yahoo.com. You can use Yahoo Briefcase to store and share files online at briefcase.yahoo.com. To take full advantage of Yahoo services, you must register for a Yahoo ID by registering for a free Yahoo e-mail address at mail.yahoo.com. To take advantage of MSN services, you must register for a .NET Passport by registering for a free Hotmail e-mail address at hotmail.com or by registering any e-mail address as a .NET Passport at register.passport.net. MSN and other portals offers services similar to Yahoo.
Whereas horizontal portals attempt to be for every purpose and audience, vertical portals cater their content and services to a particular audience from a particular industry, topic of interest, or location. For example, IslamiCity.com focuses on everything about Islam whereas Garden.com is centered on everything about plants. Both websites are created with a different audience in mind and attempt to meet the needs of that particular audience. Both horizontal and vertical portals typically have search engines, and sometimes searching a vertical portal may yield the most accurate and relevant information you are seeking. Regardless, search engines are essential for navigating through the Web to find exactly the information you need. You may add a search engine to your own website with free and commercial tools offered by search engines and by software developers.
Search engines should not be confused with Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks. A Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network is a type of file sharing network in which files are shared (downloaded and uploaded) between computer users over the Internet. Although all types of files may be transferred, P2P networks are best known for the exchange of audio and video files. Well-known P2P networks include Gnutella, OpenNap, FreeNet, and Bittorrent. P2P file-sharing programs include Limewire, Kazaa, and FreeNet. Bittorrent is most popular for the transfer of large video files. Each of these file-sharing programs allows users to search for files to download. Hence, the confusion of P2P networks with search engines. IslamicTorrents.net is the largest Islamic P2P network. Compression programs, such as WinZip and WinRar, may be needed to compress multiple files into a single file or to uncompress a single file into multiple files. For example, WinZip is often used to compress multiple files into a single Zip file for easier distribution as an e-mail attachment. WinZip is available at WinZip.com, and WinRar is available at WinRar.com.
Chatting is an online process that consists of sending and receiving messages by typing on a keyboard and the entered message will instantaneously appear on the monitor of anyone participating in the chat session. Anyone who receives your message can reply, and you will see the message instantaneously. In other words, a chat session occurs live and in real-time as in an actual conversation. You can chat by using an Instant Messenger (IMer or IM) or by visiting a chat room.
The most popular Instant Messengers are AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk, and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) clients. A typical Instant Messenger chat session involves only two users, and both people must use the same IMer to begin a chat session. In addition to sending text messages, Instant Messengers allow you to transfer files such as documents, images, and movies. You can also use emoticons, such as a smiling or sad face. Instant Messengers also give you a contacts list, also known as a buddy list, to add screen names of other IM users. Although Imers now allow multiple people to chat simultaneously, communication is still essentially restricted to the contacts list. Instant Messengers allow you to search for other IM users and to accept messages from only the IM users you want. If you don’t want certain IM users to send you instant messages, you can block their screen names.
The most popular Instant Messengers can be downloaded and installed for free. AIM is available at aim.com. Yahoo Messenger is available at messenger.yahoo.com. Windows Live Messenger is available at messenger.msn.com. Google Talk is available at talk.google.com. The two most popular IRC clients are ICQ and mIRC, which are available at icq.com and mIRC.com, respectively. You must setup a username before beginning a chat session. For example, you need a Yahoo ID to use Yahoo Messenger. You need a .NET Passport to use Windows Live Messenger. Multi-protocol IM programs, such as Trillian and PalTalk, allow you to use all four IMer options simultaneously. They are available at CeruleanStudios.com and PalTalk.com, respectively. Although Jabber is widely believed to be a multi-protocol IM program, Jabber is actually an open-source instant messaging platform. When run on a server, Jabber allows people and organizations to run their own IM services. Jabber is available at Jabber.org.
A chat room is an online ‘room’ where you can chat with many people at the same time. A chat room is often given a name to reflect its purpose, such as discussion on a particular subject or by certain like-minded people. Therefore, you may search for a chat room that suits your interests. Once you have entered a chat room, everyone can see what everyone else writes. Most chat rooms also allow users to send private messages to others in the chat room. Instant Messengers are generally not considered true chat rooms even though a chat session on an IMer is technically a chat room. A true chat room is typically a website that is accessible at any time by anyone. However, chat sessions on Instant Messengers require the use of an IMer and are limited to users found in an IMer contacts list. I am referring to true chat rooms in my discussion about chat rooms.
Some chat rooms have moderators who monitor the online discussion. The responsibility of moderators varies depending on the chat room. Some chat rooms have moderators who determine which messages are ultimately sent out to the chat room. Moderators may also be responsible for warning or kicking users who misbehave out of the room. Some chat rooms have no moderation. Most chat rooms have at least some informal moderation, in which members take responsibility in encouraging appropriate chat room behavior. Although true with the Internet in general, chat rooms are notorious for having people pretending to be someone they are not. Requiring username and password verification can minimize such issues.
You can access chat rooms at chat.yahoo.com, chat.msn.com, and chat.icq.com. You must sign up for a username to access these services with the exception of Icq.com. Some chat room services, such as PalTalk.com, TalkCity.com, and ChatFamily.com, require a paid subscription for complete access to services offered. You can access 3D chat rooms at ActiveWorlds.com, CyberTown.com, and PalacePlanet.net. Some ISPs offer chat rooms that are available only to subscribers. Instant Messengers, such as Yahoo Messenger, Paltalk, and IRC clients, provide access to chat rooms. Although IRC clients are commonly used for one-to-one chat, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) was created mainly for accessing multi-user chat rooms, also known as channels. Technically, chat rooms and channels are synonymous terms.
Chatting provides an inexpensive way for you to communicate rapidly and easily with old friends and to make new friends from anywhere. With a webcam and microphone, you can let others see and hear you in addition to chatting with text messages. Most major Instant Messengers now offer free voice and video chat services. Paltalk is among the first Imers to introduce voice and video chat rooms. Many websites of organizations offer free chat rooms to attract more visitors. Chat rooms also offer a unique way for organizations to be easily reached by members, employees, customers, distributors, etc. Organizations and people can even run their own IM services with Jabber. Today, adding a chat room to your personal website is uncomplicated. As true with other free online services, free chat room services usually come with annoying banner or popup ads.
For Muslims, Instant Messengers and chat rooms offer a unique way to discuss Islam with non-Muslims. Because it occurs in real-time, chatting is a quick way to ask and answer questions about Islam. Because it is popular, chatting provides a way of getting a large audience to present information about Islam. Furthermore, because Muslims and non-Muslims can communicate anonymously rather than in person, they are more inclined to communicate freely without being shy or nervous. For Muslim organizations, chatting provides a method of communication that can be used for networking, planning, and implementing ideas that is comparable to teleconferencing and face-to-face meetings. However, face-to-face meetings are always more preferable in Islam.
A discussion forum is an online location intended for discussions. The term ‘board’ is often associated with discussion forums because like a notice board, people can communicate by asking or responding to questions, comments, thoughts, and ideas by posting messages on the ‘board.’ Consequently, discussion forums may be called bulletin boards, message boards, discussion boards, and even electronic billboards. Discussion forums may also be referred to as Internet forums, web forums, or online forums to emphasize their online presence. They may also be simply called forums.
A discussion forum is composed of message threads that are categorized by various subjects. A message thread is a series of posts that make up a discussion on a discussion forum, Usenet newsgroup, newslist, or blog. Each new post on the forum begins a new thread, and the thread gets longer as more responses are added to the original post. For example, a discussion forum on computers could include categories about hardware and software. In one category, a message thread could be a computer question that was posted along with all discussion about that particular question.
An archive is one of the main benefits of discussion forums. An archive consisting of old and new message threads is available for others to read, respond, and search. Therefore, an archive can save organizations and people time and money by providing answers to previously asked questions found on the discussion forums of organizations, such as Dell and Microsoft. Because each has a static URL, a message thread may be easily sent over e-mail. Many discussion forums allow you to be notified about new posts to message threads that you choose to follow. A forum can be a means for people with similar interests to meet and communicate, but unlike chatting, personal exchanges tend to be avoided and discouraged. The most popular forums can be accessed through Big-Boards.com. Big-Boards.com also contains a search engine for finding all kinds of discussion forums. Many websites, such as EZboard.com and PhpBB.com, offer free discussion forum services.
Discussion forums have also been called discussion groups and newsgroups. However, the term newsgroup is most associated with Usenet. Usenet is a worldwide system containing thousands of newsgroups hosted all over the world, covering every imaginable topic. Usenet newsgroups are used daily by millions of people around the world. Like discussion forums, you can read, post, and reply to messages. Unlike most discussion forums, you may also use Usenet newsgroups to transfer image, audio, and video files in addition to posting text messages. Unlike most discussion forums, the Usenet newsgroups are organized into hierarchies of topics. The most popular top-level hierarchies include alt, biz, comp, misc, news, rec, soc, and talk. For example, newsgroups you may want to visit include those within alt.religion.*, soc.culture.*, soc.religion.*, and alt.politics.* Categories under alt.religion.* include alt.religion.islam.* and alt.religion.christian.* The wildcard ‘*’ indicates that these categories contain subcategories.
The main difference between Usenet newsgroups and discussion forums is that you need to use a newsreader to access Usenet newsgroups. A newsreader may be a stand-alone program, a part of an e-mail client such MS Outlook, or built into a web browser such as with Opera and Netscape. Stand-alone newsreaders, such as Omea Reader and Forte Agent, have more functionality than those built into programs. As with e-mail service, most ISPs provide access to Usenet newsgroups as part of their service. You may also choose to find a service that provides free or paid access to Usenet newsgroups. The largest Usenet archive dating back to 1981 is available by Google at groups.google.com. When many people refer to Usenet newsgroups, they are actually referring to Google’s Usenet service. Therefore, you may use the Web to access Usenet by using any web browser as a newsreader. Unfortunately, the Usenet on Google cannot be accessed with a regular newsreader nor used for file transfer. Although you may read messages, you must register on Google’s Usenet service to post messages and to create a personal profile. A personal profile lets other users know a little about you. All types of newsreaders may be used to search Usenet newsgroups.
As true with chat rooms, discussion forums and Usenet newsgroups may have moderators who monitor online discussion. As a general rule, forums should be somewhat moderated to prevent them from becoming useless for discussion, especially to limit acts of flaming. Flaming is posting messages that are intentionally hostile and offensive. These messages, or flames, generally do not contribute to the discussion. People who post such messages are called flamers. Flame wars, or a sequence of flames among various people, should also be avoided. Often, flame wars are started because people do not understand each other’s intention. Flamers may also be called Internet trolls. An Internet troll is used to describe someone who deliberately attempts to disturb discussion by posting disruptive, unrelated, and annoying messages, such as repetitive posts, humorous posts, and flames. The best way to deal with Internet trolls is to ignore them, which is more commonly stated as, “Do not feed the trolls.” This is also the best way to deal with spam and phishing scams. Although most associated with e-mail, spam and phishing scams may be found all methods of online communication.
Because of their centralized nature, discussion forums are typically easier to moderate and are moderated better than Usenet newsgroups. Most discussion forums have at least one formal moderator whereas Usenet newsgroups typically depend on informal moderation. Forum software may come with many advanced features to ensure proper behavior. A forum moderator has at least the ability to approve, delete, move, or edit messages. Even requesting assistance with these basic tasks on a Usenet message thread can be a complicated progress. However, posts on discussion forums and Usenet newsgroups are generally not deleted unless requested by the person who originally posted the message, and a valid reason may be required.
For Muslims, discussion forums and Usenet newsgroups provide many of the same benefits of chat rooms. Many non-Muslims often post general questions and comments about Islam on discussion forums and Usenet newsgroups. Muslims can respond to these questions and comments about Islam. Muslims and non-Muslims can also focus on subjects of interest, because discussion forums are categorized by topic. They can add new questions, answers, ideas, and information to any existing message threads. In fact, many discussion forums found on Islamic websites contain valuable information by knowledgeable Islamic scholars. Personal profiles also offer an opportunity for people to get to know each other. Among the most popular Muslim discussion forums are WhyIslam.org/forum, IslamiCity.com/forum, IslamOnline.net/discussione, Yanabi.com/forum, and IslamicaWeb.com.
Discussion forums should not be confused with bulletin board systems (BBSs) or with website guestbooks. Before Internet Service Providers and modern web browsers, bulletin board systems were the method used by the general public for e-mail, chatting, forums, file transfer, etc. Today’s bulletin board systems are accessed primarily by Telnet rather than by dial-up. Website guestbooks are used mostly for collecting feedback from visitor comments rather than as a place for discussion. Unlike discussion forums, a guestbook is essentially a list of comments with the most recent on top, and you do not have an option to create a user account.
A newslist is essentially a list of names and e-mail addresses used to send e-mail messages to several people simultaneously. A newslist may be referred to as an e-mailing list, an e-mail list, and even a mailing list. The newslist can be compared to the traditional mailing list, which usually involves the transfer of mail to several people concurrently through the U.S. Postal System. The names and e-mail addresses of the people who make up a newslist are called members or subscribers. By sending an e-mail to the newslist, a member sends the message to the entire group of newslist members. The list address is the e-mail address used to send messages to the newslist.
Subscribing to a newslist is an easy process. You usually have to send an e-mail to a newslist administrative address that may look something like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org.’ Depending on the newslist, you may need to include on the subject line something such as ‘Subscribe FirstName LastName.’ Afterward, you may receive an e-mail asking you to confirm your subscription. This e-mail will explain how to complete the subscription process. This e-mail will also explain how to unsubscribe from the list. You can also subscribe to some newslists on the Web using an online form. Administrative addresses are used to perform newslist functions such as subscribing and unsubscribing from newslists and changing newslist options.
Although they are technically different, a newslist may also be referred to as a distribution list. Unlike a newslist, a distribution list is created using an e-mail client to send the same message to many people at once. The term may also refer to an email client’s ability to create such lists. Consequently, a message is sent to a distribution list using an e-mail client rather than sent to a list address. A distribution list does not have an automated method for subscribing and unsubscribing from the list, because a newslist program does not operate distribution lists. Furthermore, a distribution list also lacks the flexible options that a newslist program may offer.
Before modern web browsers, ListServ, ListProc, and Majordomo were the most popular newlist programs. ListServ, which was founded in 1986, is the first newslist program. Today, the term ‘listserv’ is often used to mean any newslist. Like ListServ, ListProc and Majordomo were commonly found on UNIX operating systems. Many mailing lists still run using Majordomo or ListProc, both of which today may be configured for the Web. Currently, the most popular free newslist services are Yahoo Groups at groups.yahoo.com, Google Groups at groups.google.com, MSN Groups at groups.msn.com and Groups@AOL at groups.aol.com. These groups are newslists with added functionality and may be referred to as discussion forums.
I recommend Yahoo Groups, because the service is exceptional. Anyone can join a Yahoo Group by browsing or searching the Yahoo Groups directory at groups.yahoo.com. Most newslist groups are categorized by topic in the directory for a particular newslist service. Anyone with an e-mail account can subscribe to a Yahoo Group by e-mailing NAMEemail@example.com, unsubscribe by e-mailing NAMEfirstname.lastname@example.org, post messages by e-mailing NAME@yahoogroups.com, and e-mail the group owner by e-mailing NAMEemail@example.com where ‘NAME’ denotes the Yahoo Group name. Notice that the list address is NAME@yahoogroups.com. The e-mail address for the group owner is called the list manager address.
To take full advantage of Yahoo Groups, you have to get a Yahoo ID. You can change settings for your Yahoo Groups at groups.yahoo.com/mygroups. For example, members can select to read messages posted to a newslist as individual e-mails, as a daily digest, or at the newslist website. Each Yahoo Group has a website where you can access previous newslist postings at groups.yahoo.com/group/NAME where ‘NAME’ denotes the Yahoo Group name. This searchable collection of newslist postings is called a newslist archive. The website for each Yahoo Group also contains a chat room, a polls and surveys area, areas for sharing files and website links, and a photo album for sharing images. You must have a Yahoo ID to start your own Yahoo Group and to create a personal profile. Google Groups, MSN Groups, and Groups@AOL offer optional services that are similar to those offered by Yahoo Groups. You need to create a user account or register your e-mail address to take full advantage of those services.
Most newslists have at least one moderator. The moderator is similar to those found in chat rooms and on discussion forums. The moderator is responsible for enforcing the rules of the newslist. The moderator decides what ultimately gets posted, decides who can join the newslist, and can kick people off the list who violate rules. Some newslists are not moderated. For example, the moderator of a Yahoo Group is usually the person who is the creator, or owner, of the newslist. The creator of a Yahoo Group may assign additional moderators and decides how much influence over the Yahoo Group to assign to the additional moderators. Depending on the newslist, a moderator may also have the ability to make changes to the general appearance of the newslist and its website. Moderators may also choose whether or not to include their newslist in the directory.
Newslists are a very important and effective communication tool. The popularity of newslist can be attributed to the popularity of e-mail, because a newslist is essentially messages that regularly and conveniently arrive in an e-mail account. For Muslims, newslists hold the same benefits of other methods of online communication. For example, newslists make Islam and Muslims accessible to non-Muslims. Newslists also provide a way for staying in touch with friends and making new friends. Muslims can send an e-mail message, which may even include an attachment, to all of their friends at the same time using a newslist. Muslims and non-Muslims can subscribe to newslists that focus on topics of interest. Newslists about almost every topic and interest pertaining to Islam exists. Many Muslim organizations use newslists to discuss, plan, and announce events, and to discuss recent news. The most popular Muslim newslists are those by the largest American Muslim organizations. As with discussion forums and Usenet newsgroups, you should keep in mind that posts to newslists can remain accessible to the general public for many years.
Web syndication is about distributing the same content to many outlets over the Internet. When considering syndication, most people think about television or printed media syndication. As with web syndication, both types of syndication are methods for distributing the same content to several outlets at the same time. For example, a television show is distributed to several TV stations whereas a newspaper column is distributed to several newspapers. An example of web syndication is content, such as articles, images, audio, or video, licensed by the Associated Press to be used on various websites. People may also be more familiar with web syndication as the means for distributing content found on blogs. All types of websites now offer syndication of their online content. The online content is referred to as a web feed, news feed, or simply as a feed. Consequently, web syndication has also been called news feed syndication. Web syndication is now more commonly used to refer to aggregation.
Aggregation is the process of receiving syndicated web feeds using an aggregator. Aggregators are stand-alone programs, a part of other programs, and websites that automatically check for updates of content from its feed list. The feed list is the list of website addresses for your selected web feeds. An aggregator receives its name for bringing together updated content from various websites. After receiving an update on the content, you may choose to read the new content in the aggregator or on the website where the content is found. You have to visit the website when only an excerpt or summary of the updated content is provided to the aggregator. Although used mostly for bringing together syndicated text files, aggregators can also bring together syndicated audio and video files. In other words, any type of Web content can be syndicated as a web feed.
Aggregators are also known as feed readers and news readers, because an aggregator reads XML files after receiving web feeds, or news feeds. Web feeds are technically XML files. Currently, RSS and Atom files are the most popular types of XML files used for web syndication. A website may choose to make its web feeds available as RSS and/or as Atom files. Aggregators that receive RSS feeds are called RSS feed readers. Atom was created as a response to concerns about RSS. Websites that provide web feeds often have small buttons stating XML, RSS, or Atom that often lead to the website address of the web feed. Unlike newslists, intermediaries do not exist in the subscription process. When you add a website link to your feed list, you are subscribing to a web feed. And, you remove a website link from your feed list to unsubscribe from a web feed.
As mentioned previously, there are different kinds of aggregators. Aggregators can be stand-alone programs, such as Omea Reader, Newsgator, and Feed Demon. Omea Reader is a free aggregator that can be used to access both web feeds and Usenet newsgroups. Stand-alone programs, such as Apple’s iTunes and Windows Media Player, can be used specifically for audio and video aggregation. Aggregators can also be part of other programs, such as web browsers and e-mail clients. Websites that operate as online aggregators are My Yahoo at my.yahoo.com and My MSN at my.msn.com. Google offers a free online aggregator called Google Reader at reader.google.com. Bloglines.com is a free online service used primarily for reading web feeds and publishing blogs. Websites that receive web feeds from media outlets, such as the Associated Press, also act as online aggregators.
Web syndication has become more important with the growing number of websites that offer web feeds, such as blogs. Websites that receive web feeds benefit because they receive content from multiple websites. A Muslim website can receive automatic updates of content from various Muslim and non-Muslim websites. Websites that provide web feeds have an opportunity to reach a wider audience by presenting their content on multiple outlets through various aggregators and websites. Web syndication enables Muslims to share their blogs with more people. Websites that provide web feeds also do not have to depend on subscribers to visit their websites to receive updated content. Web syndication enables automatic access to updated content from Muslim and non-Muslim websites in one place, which can be read whenever they choose without visiting each website individually. New blog entries are automatically available to all of its subscribers.
An online community is similar to a typical community in that both can be described as a group of people with something in common. For example, an online community is often based on race, ethnicity, religion, profession, income, age, and various common interests. However, most people consider a typical community to be based on location, especially when the group of people currently lives in the same area. Like typical communities, online communities experience different levels of communication and participation. Members may have little in common and may even be complete strangers. On the other hand, members may be like best friends or family.
However, because they exist on the Internet, online communities are rarely defined explicitly by location. Rather than face-to-face interaction, the members of online communities interact using online methods, such as blogs, wikis, P2P networks, chat rooms, discussion forums, and newslists. Xanga.com and Bloglines.com, for example, are very popular blog communities. Collectively, the actual members may be referred to as the online community. An online community may also be called an online network because online communities present many networking opportunities. Portals, such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL are well known for offering free services that enable people to form online communities.
However, online communities are largely considered to be websites, such as MySpace.com, Hi5.com, Friendster.com, and Facebook.com. These popular online communities are based on all types of people and interests. Other online communities focus on common identity such as MiGente.com for Latinos and BlackPlanet.com for African-Americans. The most popular online communities for Muslims are MuslimSpace.com and Naseeb.com. Other online communities may focus on common interests. Popular online communities for file sharing include Flickr.com and Ringo.com for photo sharing and YouTube.com for video sharing. Classmates.com is used for reconnecting with former friends from school, college, work, and even the military, whereas Reunion.com is used for reconnecting with both friends and family. Ebay.com and Amazon.com are popular commercial online communities.
Online communities, such as MySpace and Hi5, have common similarities. They consist of various online communication methods that revolve around individual members. Members can create a blog, personal profile, and photo album. Members can usually create, join, and contribute to groups similar to Yahoo Groups and to discussion forums. These online communities also offer an internal messaging system that is similar to e-mail. They provide internal search engines to explore all aspects of the online community. Some online communities even offer chat services. Members can invite other community members to join their friends list. Members can also invite their friends to become members of the online community. These online communities provide members with a personal website for accessing their profile, blog, groups, forums, photo album, friends list, and messages. Members act as moderators for their personal websites.
Online communities offer many advantages regardless of how they may be defined. Online communities are an important way to network with other people by encouraging interaction among people from around the world. Other community members may contact you based on your personal profile and by your community involvement. For example, a Muslim male can find other Muslim men with similar interests and skills that live in his city by searching personal profiles by gender, location, interests, and skills. By becoming reachable, you can connect with diverse groups of Muslims and non-Muslims. Online communities are an important means for obtaining and providing assistance. Unfortunately, people who are eager to exploit community members may take advantage of their kindness.
Internet etiquette (netiquette) should be respected properly on all online communities. Netiquette means to have manners on the Internet. With the growth of the Internet, netiquette was needed to assist in ensuring observance of socially acceptable behavior on the Internet. Understanding netiquette may help you avoid being perceived as impolite, lazy, complicated, or arrogant. Netiquette consists of recommendations and informal rules. For example, one netiquette suggestion is to avoid shouting. Shouting means using all capital letters when posting messages. Another netiquette suggestion is to use relevant subject titles for messages when possible. Spamming, flaming, and trolling are obviously against netiquette principles.
As true with etiquette, netiquette can vary widely among different groups of people. Islamic netiquette is founded on basic Islamic principles concerning manners. Islamic netiquette assists in maintaining the Islamic culture that is characteristic of the Muslim community. One important example of Islamic netiquette is to always greet fellow Muslims with the customary greeting of peace. The CyberUmmah should seek to maintain proper manners on the Internet as they would in the real world. The CyberUmmah is the entire online community of Muslims. CyberUmmah is derived from Ummah, which means ‘community’ in Arabic. In Islam, the Ummah refers to the entire Muslim community regardless of all other considerations. The CyberUmmah merely represents a small fraction of the entire Ummah. The CyberUmmah must make considerations with respect to Islam and Muslims.
Online communities present many challenges to the Ummah. Members of online communities must volunteer much time and energy to increase the size and participation of online communities. Resources should not be diverted from building important Islamic institutions, such as mosques and Islamic schools. Instead, methods of online communication should be viewed as complimentary tools for Muslims. Online interaction should supplement rather than completely substitute face-to-face interaction. The mosque must continue to be the center of Islamic life. Online communities may also provide only a limited view of Islam and may even provide much false information. Furthermore, because they can be very addictive, online communities have the potential to take you away from your basic Islamic responsibilities. Therefore, participation on online communities can have a negative impact on the Ummah as a whole.
As Muslims, we must continue to communicate the message of Islam. Methods for online communication provide a way to collect, store, present, and distribute Islamic information. These methods also facilitate communication among various groups of people. However, we must always continue to use traditional means of communication. You will still use the telephone, postal service, and meet at physical locations for dawah purposes. You will continue to mail Islamic CDs, brochures, and books. You will also continue to hold interfaith dialogues at churches and universities. You will also continue to educate yourself at your mosque’s library.
However, now you can also write e-mail to Muslims and non-Muslims around the world. You can create an Islamic website, e-mail its link, and syndicate its content around the world. You can use a newslist or discussion forum for planning activities. After finding an interesting article on the Web, you can print the article to distribute among friends. You can have interfaith dialogues in religion chat rooms. You can use a search engine to answer your questions about Islam. You can join online communities to meet Muslims and non-Muslims. Regardless of the means, we must continue to communicate the guidance without deviation, distortion, and innovation, inshaAllah.
Original 2002. Updated 2006.